Does anybody remember Ernie Pyle?
He died before I was born, but I certainly remember him from my days as a journalist. He had reported on both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II as a roving war correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain.
Pyle had been managing editor of the Washington Daily News, a tabloid, but he eventually became a columnist who traveled all over this country writing about the unusual places he visited and the unusual people he had found there. His folksy, common-man style of writing was well received. He employed that same intimate style of writing when he became a war correspondent in 1942 usually writing about the war from the point of view of the common soldier.
It won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. He also published the following books: Ernie Pyle in England, Here Is Your War, Brave Men, and Last Chapter.
Another war correspondent, John Steinbeck, who also knew something about writing said this of Pyle.
“There are really two wars and they haven’t much to do with each other. There is the war of maps and logistics, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions and regiments — and that is General Marshall’s war.
“Then there is the war of homesick, weary, funny, violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the food, whistle at Arab girls, or any girls for that matter, and lug themselves through as dirty a business as the world has ever seen and do it with humor and dignity and courage — and that is Ernie Pyle’s war. He knows it as well as anyone and writes about it better than anyone.”
As the European war wore down, Pyle traveled to the Pacific. On April 18,1945 he died on a small island near Okinawa having been hit in the temple by Japanese machine gun fire. He is one of the few American civilians killed in the was to have been awarded the Purple Heart.
As a bookseller, I have had several copies of his books that were produced by the Council on Books in Wartime which produced the Armed Services Editions series. They sell rapidly. I was also lucky to have acquired his Brave Men, a first edition with dust jacket produced by Henry Holt in 1944. It is inscribed briefly To Ted Smith – /- from Ernie Pyle/Jan. 11, 1945. Laid loosely into it is one of Pyle’s columns clipped from a newspaper, probably his Daily News. Someone dated it in pencil April 17, 1945. It may well be his last column. It’s a treasure.